The very first Earth Day took place in 1970 and was founded by Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin, as a result of a large oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Back then, Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, and farmers and city folks all came together–20 million Americans strong–to call for more sustainable lifestyles and a clean environment. This political alignment, which isn’t seen much nowadays, led to several acts in the US, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act as well as to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In 1990, Earth Day went global.
When I think of today’s world, and how it seems to have regressed from the positive notions of caring for the environment that earlier decades worked toward–with several corporate messaging attempts (and successes) to make us think that environmental concerns are radical or wrong–I think maybe we need a new vision. I found a nice way of coming to terms with this thought process when reading Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael: An Adventure of Mind and Spirit, which happens also to be one inspiration for a new novel that will be published by Moon Willow Press later this year. In Ishmael, a student has an ongoing systematic (deductive) and Socratic dialog with a talking gorilla. Sounds a little crazy, but their conversation is about why the world is corrupt and how to change it.
At one point (spoilers possible!), the conversation goes like this:
“People need a something positive to work for. They need a vision of something that…I don’t know. Something that…”
“I think what you’re groping for is that people need more than to be scolded, more than to be made to feel stupid and guilty. They need more than a vision of doom. They need a vision of the world and of themselves that inspires them.”
“Yes. Definitely. Stopping pollution is not inspiring. Sorting your trash is not inspiring. Cutting down on fluorocarbons is not inspiring. But this…thinking of ourselves in a new way, thinking of the world in a new way…”
So, what is it that would inspire us when it comes to the dirty job of cleaning up our planet? We have to be involved too, and not just view nature as a separate entity from us (it is not).
Maybe it just takes a different world view, one that sees beauty in the harsh reality of nature and the necessity of balance meaning more than taking everything we want (and don’t need) for a rich consumer lifestyle.
Maybe it means being able to look at a wheelbarrow full of dirt as inspirational and beautiful? The dirt shown above was part of two yards of soil we transferred from our driveway (where it was delivered) to a garden plot we are building. This garden plot of course represents not just one Earth Day event, but two seasons of building, planting, maintaining, and harvesting numerous vegetables, fruits, and herbs that will allow us to be self-sufficient in a portion of our food intake in the coming year, or years to come if you count canning and storing food. It’s not just a selfish endeavor either, as we plan to share what we can’t use with neighbors and friends. The garden represents less oil and energy involved in our food consumption due to not having to transit to a store that also has food products shipped to it. It represents a complete lack of pesticides and chemicals being used on our food. It represents an action that will reinforce our survival by building a connection with, and respect for, nature, even if it means dealing with worms, bugs, and dirt beneath our fingernails.
This vision of our garden, the dirty work involved, is all inspiring. I honestly never thought of worms as “beautiful,” and to be honest they still gross me out, but compared to mutated shrimp from oil spill toxins, smoggy skies, plastic oceans with vast areas of nurdles, and littered parks and green spaces, worms aren’t so bad when you think about it. What I’m getting at is that Earth Day should represent not just one day of loving the earth, but caring for our planet every day, and not because we have to but because we want to, because we are driven. All the time. And why should we do this? Because sustaining our planet is a life movement, whereas taking too much and over-consuming what we don’t need is a death movement. Confirming ourselves as not a self-destructive species is the most inspirational thing I can think of!
I motivate everyone to get involved this Earth Day, which occurs April 22 (tomorrow), in an event that will promise a good change to the earth for not just one day but for seasons and years to come.